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Middle of Nowhere
The good news about John Stockwell's "Middle of Nowhere" is that the movie features 25% less ogling than his previous motion pictures. The bad news is that the movie is 100% melodramatic and cringingly formulaic, running a few sleepy coming-of-age drills while stewing in the juices of class discomfort and deadbeat parental routine. Stockwell's never been much of a filmmaker, but at least the mopey teen shuffle of "Middle of Nowhere" offers a path of sincerity to follow. Instead, the director mixes up a batch of exhausted cliché, paralyzing a few promising performances with his hackneyed vision.
Grace (Eva Amurri) desperately wants to attend medical school in the fall, lacking the funds to do so due to her mother's (Susan Sarandon) frantic overspending and destructive tendencies. Taking a summer job at a water park, Grace meets Dorian (Anton Yelchin), a privileged teen whose acts of defiance have helped to alienate him from his family. Offering Grace an opportunity to make her first-year tuition by assisting in the selling of marijuana, Dorian hopes to gain a friend and a chauffeur, only to fall in love with his colleague. Working through the summer chasing a steady cash flow, the pair find their agreement tested when Grace takes interest in a hunky rich kid (Justin Chatwin), and her little sister, Taylor (Willa Holland), starts to act out sexually to escape the tension at home.
The mind behind "Blue Crush," "Turistas" "Crazy/Beautiful," and "Into the Blue," John Stockwell has built his career on capturing beautiful bodies involved in very bad business. He's a lascivious filmmaker with a feeble grasp on dramatic nuance, preferring the steamroller approach of screen hysteria and thespian flailing to make his points. Working from a screenplay from actress Michelle Morgan, "Middle of Nowhere" avoids most Stockwellian pitfalls in the first act, setting off on a personal journey of financial desperation and small-town, working-class woe. Outside of the director's insistence that Amurri wear low-cut tops for every occasion and Yelchin prance around shirtless, it seems Stockwell might have something here with this modest, moderately felt story of acceptance.
It doesn't take long for "Middle of Nowhere" to run off the rails, despite the efforts of Amurri and Yelchin to provide a unique feeling of hesitancy within their roles. In fact, Amurri accomplishes quite a bit in the limited space Stockwell gives her, conveying relatable moments of panic as lofty dreams of educational freedom are slowly pulled away from her. She's a promising actress, but the script soon turns to odious exaggeration to provide conflict, scattering to the four winds as each character takes on a heavy load of turmoil to position the film toward cheap emotional catharsis. The worst subplot belongs to Taylor, a character barely developed in the movie, yet gifted an unexpected sexuality that Stockwell employs as shock value, eager to get Holland half-naked and boozed up to make an after school special statement about the character's distorted development and escalating objectification.
Also half-baked is Grace's dalliance with Chatwin's character, which is intended to represent the good girl's eye-opening moment of betrayal, but is so ludicrously pared down to basic emotions, it seems more suited for a "Saved by the Bell" episode. Dorian also has his share of undercooked motivation, as the film whittles down his misery to trite battles with adoption blues to make its point about the boy's pariah status.
The AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) on this BD satisfies with its fine grain, allowing the visuals to retain a film-like quality. Facial detail is quite useful here, with close-ups permitting reactions to communicate clearly, while environments and production details are easy to examine. Colors are bountiful (best in the bright water park location) and comfortably separated, with summer hues communicating a specific feel to the movie. Shadow detail is strong and helpful, with evening sequences that are easy to follow.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix doesn't offer much to the listener besides a set routine of audio elements, holding tightly to dialogue, which is pushed up front and blended comfortably with the rest of the track. A few montages and overall soundtrack emphasis provide a subtle dimension to the listening event, punching through with some vigor and pleasing musical fidelity. Atmospherics are detected in outdoor environments, but nothing extraordinary.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
"Making Of" (25:03) offers interviews with cast and crew, with special attention to character nuance, working through the personalities of the picture. Film clips fill the gaps here, though the information provided is semi-useful if one hungers for a more enlightening discussion of the story. Some BTS footage is included, but not nearly enough.
"Deleted Scenes" (6:35) provides very short excised and extended scenes, most centered on the developing relationship between Grace and Dorian. Nothing extraordinary, just tiny snippets of tension and confession wisely removed from the picture.
"Cast & Crew Interviews" (11:16) basically acts as an extension of the making-of, only here the viewer is allowed to zero in on the cast or crew member of their choosing.
A Theatrical Trailer is included.
Evocative, gorgeous cinematography from Byron Shah helps "Middle of Nowhere" achieve a sense of poetry it doesn't otherwise earn, soon wasted by Stockwell as the film dissolves into ineffective conflict and inflated turns of fate. As the title suggests, "Middle of Nowhere" is an aimless, unremarkable feature, trying to grasp profundity while wandering through a series of uninspired encounters. It comes off artificial and unpleasant, which appear to be the only two sensations John Stockwell is capable of summoning as a director.